If a person is in danger of drowning, offering a life preserver is appropriate. However, if that person is surrounded by flames in a burning house, the life preserver would not be helpful. It may even make the situation worse.
Antibiotics could be considered the life preservers of health care. When used appropriately, antibiotics can significantly benefit patients' health and well-being. Without antibiotics, more people could die from infections caused by injury, illness or exposure to infectious agents. However, antibiotics are not appropriate for every situation.
Bacteria and other infectious organisms can quickly adapt and become resistant to available antibiotics. When an antibiotic no longer affects a certain strain of bacteria, those bacteria are said to be antibiotic-resistant. Sometimes they are referred to as superbugs.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the world's most pressing health problems. Over 30% of antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. are unnecessary or ineffective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 2 million infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria ― superbugs ― occur in the U.S. each year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.
The overuse of antibiotics, especially taking antibiotics when they're not the appropriate treatment, promotes antibiotic resistance.
In addition, antibiotics are not benign. All have potential side effects, including diarrhea and nausea, or kidney and liver damage. Some side effects can be life-threatening, such as an allergic reaction, or cause hospitalizations. These side effects, in addition to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, contribute to rising costs in health care.
Everyone has a role to play. At Mayo Clinic Health System, a team of experts is focused on ensuring the appropriate use of antibiotics, which is also called antibiotic stewardship. This team has implemented new treatment guidelines to ensure effective treatments for bacteria infections and reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics.
You also play a part in antibiotic stewardship. You can reduce the development of antibiotic resistance by:
- Not pressuring your health care provider to give you a prescription for an antibiotic.
- Practicing good hygiene to avoid bacterial infections that need antibiotic treatment.
- Making sure you and your family receive recommended vaccinations. Some recommended vaccines protect against bacterial infections, such as diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis).
- Reducing your risk of getting a foodborne bacterial infection. Don't drink raw milk, wash your hands and cook foods to a safe internal temperature.
- Using antibiotics only as prescribed by your health care provider. Take the prescribed daily dose and complete the entire course of treatment.
- Never taking leftover antibiotics for a later illness. They may not be the correct antibiotic and would not be a full course of treatment.
- Never taking antibiotics prescribed for another person.
Antibiotic resistance use is a serious issue. When used incorrectly, bacteria become resistant to the antibiotic and become superbugs, which can require longer and even more intense courses of treatment.
Trust your health care provider's advice and know that he or she is taking the necessary steps to put you back on the quickest path to ideal health.
Learn more about medications:
- Medication disposal: Why, how to safely clean out your medicine cabinet
- Medication synchronization increases prescription efficiency
- Over-the-counter, prescription medication safety
- Pharmacogenomics: Getting the right drug